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Edik Baghdasaryan

Who Exploited the Mghart Gold Mine?

GM Magharo is just one of the some 30 companies owned by Gagik Tsarukyan. Mr. Tsarukyan is the sole shareholder of the firm. In March of 2006 the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development of the ROA granted a special license to the company regarding mineral extraction rights at the Mghart gold mine located in the Lori Marze.

Twenty days later this document was transferred over to the Multi Group Concern, CJSC. The office of GM Magharo at Vardanants Street #7 was closed, the telephones switched off and Tigran Atanesyan, the company’s Chief Director, was no where to be found. All our attempts to obtain information about GM Magharo were fruitless. It appeared that no one, either from the Prosperous Armenia Party, Mr. Tsarukyan’s office at the National Assembly, or from any of the companies he owns, felt competent enough to answer our questions. Letters we’ve mailed to Mr. Tsarukyan have also gone unanswered.

On June 11, 2007 Silva Danielyan, an assistant to the Chief Director at GM Magharo, informed Mghart village resident Armen Dallakyan that, “Any working relationship between you and the company is hereby terminated due to reasons of job incompatibility. A final accounting of your records will take place according to the procedures set forth in the statues of the ROA and you will be paid what is due at the earliest possible time. Attached, we are sending your work card”.

46 other residents of Mghart who had been working at the nearby gold mine received similar letters. The letters were written on plain paper and carried no official seal or stamp.

The letter received by the company’s accountant, Henrik Mamajanyan, differed slightly from the others. Dated June 8th, the letter stated that he was being let go “in accordance with your personal application.” At the same time it was noted in the letter that, “In the event that the firm resumes operation we expect to see the continuation of our team work...Attached is your work card which we ask that you keep so that you can present it to the company in the future.”

Henrik Mamajanyan told Hetq that, “The company changed in 2006. The Director was Tigran Atanesyan, a guy from Yerevan. According to the firm’s Black representatives, we were to be paid the following Friday of every month. For the first two months we received our wages more or less on time. Then came the late payments - one month, two months. When the January rolled around with the New Year's festivities in sight Director Atanesyan told the workers they'd be getting an additional one-month’s salary as a holiday gift. There were about 70 laborers; 46 were local residents and the rest hailed from Yerevan. There was a difference in the wages paid to both groups. The locals were paid a small amount, some 70-80,000 drams, while the men brought in from elsewhere were paid twice and even three times as much for the same work.»

The residents of Mghart report that at the time a South African company was operating the mine but no one knew the name of the firm. The villagers could only state that they were Black. What it boils down to is that for about one year a foreign company was exploiting the mineral resources of Armenia and the Armenian Ministry who granted the extraction license in the first place hadn't a clue. Armen Gevorgyan, Deputy Minister for Trade and Economic Development, replied to our questions in writing that, «the mine belongs to Multi Group and the matter regarding the non-payment of wages falls outside the jurisdiction of his particular Ministry.»

Mr. Henrik Mamajanyan relates that, «On February 8, 2007 all the laborers and engineering staff were sent on mandatory holiday leave. By the end of the month they told me to go home and that I'd be called if the need arose. A few days later I was instructed to write a termination application.  Those workers whose vacations ended on March 8th were not called back to work after their vacation leave. They were told that there was no work for them to do. But the mines were still operating and work was being carried out. We went for two months without getting paid. On May 25th the laborers were paid a month's wages but not the promised holiday bonus. The Director demanded that they write work release appeals dated as of February 25th. Those men were on vacation at that time. It wouldn't have made any sense for them to write such an application so they refused. The Director threatened to punish all who did so. About twenty days later we received those letters.»

After receiving their termination notices the workers appealed to a variety of tribunals. A petition signed by 46 of them was also sent to the Prime Minister but went unanswered.

«Tigran told us that we could petition whomever we wanted and that he'd come out the winner. Actually, we haven't gotten   paid for the work we did in January and February. But all the work records exist. It's a pity what's happened to these guys, someone has to step in and set things right. Otherwise the workers say they'll stage a hunger strike. We've appealed to the court in Alaverdi but we're told since the company is headquartered in Yerevan that city's court must hear our case. None of the guys have the money to travel to Yerevan. They see a lawyer who tells them to bring a certificate about the wages but the company refuses to hand over anything to them. In essence, it wasn't enough that they ruined our pasturelands; they've deprived us of both our wages and our lands.»

The residents of Mghart don't know where to turn to next. Every day they listen to the statements made during the election run-up promising the building of a prosperous and strong Armenia, to wage a struggle against corruption and the creation of new jobs so that people can live a better life.

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